Friday, December 31, 2010

Sweet Holiday Tradition

Growing up, the month of December seemed to exist as a mere countdown to Christmas Day; a day when treasures were ripped open making life instantly better. And, what a downer 7:00 Christmas Day would be; the gifts were opened, the meal was eaten and life went back to normal.  Many years later, I still love Christmas for the excitement of the new and the comfort of old traditions.  In our house, few traditions have had the staying power of baking day.

I have always baked Christmas gifts, however this was the first year that I involved my three year old.  With an unexpected chill in the air and Christmas carols blasting from the stereo, the youngest and I took to the kitchen for an afternoon of mixing and measuring.  One of our first creations were Dorie Greenspan's Speculoos; a delicious brown sugar cookie that seemed perfect for small gift bags.  There was only one problem; I used up all of my dried ginger on some stir fry the week before.  Since caution had already been thrown to the wind with a three year old sous chef, I decided that allspice would work just fine, as it turned out, it did.  With warm spices these cookies had a distinct 'Christmasy'  taste.   My only disappointment was my decision to use a 3 inch biscuit cutter which did not offer a very interesting shape.  Later that week, I picked up a mitten shaped cutter from Sur la Table and made another batch for family travelers...perfect!  Encouraged by our success, my young helper and I added Snickerdoodles to the prep list which with their cinnamon sugar coating were the perfect companion.

I have tried many Snickerdoodle recipes over the years and prefer the following as it gives the lovely chewy texture.

Recipe created by: Carole Clements

1/2 cup butter at room temperature
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/4 cup milk
3 1/2 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup walnuts or pecans, finely chopped (I omitted these)
For the Coating
5 TB sugar
2 TB cinnamon

  1. With an electric mixer, cream the butter until light. Add the sugar and vanilla and continue until fluffy.  Beat in the eggs, then the milk. 
  2. Sift the flour and baking soda over the butter mixture and stir to blend.  Stir in the nuts, if using.  Refrigerate for 15 minutes.  Preheat oven to 375,  Grease 2 cookie sheets.  
  3. For the coating, mix the sugar and cinnamon.  Roll Tablespoons of the dough into walnut sized balls.  Roll in the sugar mixture.  You may need to work in batches.  
  4. Place dough balls two inches apart on the prepared baking sheets and flatten slightly.  Bake until golden, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool.
These were amazingly popular cookies both among preschoolers and adults alike.  In the end, baking day not only gave the youngest and I a chance to indulge our Christmas spirit, but actually mark tasks off the holiday to-do list.  And, I must admit, watching our cookies being nibbled by family members throughout the week was a joy unparalleled.  Looking for a tradition to add to your list, or just an easy activity for last few days of Christmas vacation? Break out the flour and sugar... sweet tradition is waiting!  

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Louboutin Soup

Since we're on the subject of guilty pleasures, I feel obligated to address my shoe addiction.  Few things make me happier than sliding my manicured foot into a great shoe; and these shoes were worn to virtually every appropriate occasion in 2010.  I love the design, the heel and, of course, the perfectly painted red sole that reminds me of their fabulousness should I ever dare to forget.  A semi realist, my favorite thing to pair with fabulous shoes is a $12 vintage dress from a second hand  store. I majored in Economics after all. 

This week's French Friday selection was a potato and leek soup; a humble soup with great flavor, but on its own, a bit drab. Then I added the recommended truffle oil and instantly transformed this soup from meager to chic.  Truffle oil is the Louboutin shoe potato leek soup is the $10 dress and together they are fabulous.

Requiring a short list of relatively inexpensive ingredients this recipe was quite attractive.  One quick grocery trip and some basic prep work later and the house was filled with the delicious aroma of onions frying in beautiful butter.  
Once the potatoes and leeks joined in with the stock, I was able to leave my vegetables to simmer and tackle the latest list of holiday chores. A mere forty-five minutes later I had a beautiful lunch that not only knocked the chill from my bones, but made me hunger for a trip to Paris with my expensive shoes in tow. 

*For this and other fantastic recipes, purchase a copy of Around my French Table available via My Loves on Amazon.  Visit French Fridays with Dorie and read what other members cooked up this week.

Monday, December 13, 2010

What's your guilty pleasure?

I'm not a favorite food person; I'm a food that fits the mood person.  And, since my moods swing high and free, on any given night, there is no telling what dinner might be.  Our house concentrates more on healthy balance than healthy eating; in short I make no excuses for our culinary guilty pleasures. Cheeseburgers with truffle oil, Heineken battered catfish or my ultimate weakness, pizza.  In Houston, Pinks Pizza is hands-down the best pizzeria.  Though I was once a weekly customer, I recently moved these creations in house and added a brick oven to my backyard wish list.  Thursday nights are devoted to our Italian creation that begins  with Dellallo's spicy garlic and pepper sauce, and adds pancetta, diced yellow tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and a generous handful of arugula.

This weekend I had an extra pizza dough ball, leftover bacon, and a hodge podge of vegetables from the farmers market. I give you autumn on a crust:

Fall Pizza:
Recipe Created by: Lori Pierce

1 pound prepared pizza dough (recipe below)
4 slices thick cut bacon, diced
1 leek thinly sliced
1 butternut squash, peeled, cubed and roasted until tender*
4 ounces smoked mozzarella, sliced
4 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced
olive oil
sea salt
  1. Preheat oven and pizza stone to 450 degrees.
  2. In a medium skillet, cook the bacon until crispy.  Transfer to paper towels and let drain.
  3. Toss the butternut squash cubes in olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Roast in the oven until tender; about 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and set aside. 
  4. Heat a scant TB of olive oil in a medium skillet.  Sauté leeks until softened.  Add the butternut squash and stir to combine.  
  5. Spread the leek mixture atop the prepared pizza dough.  Top with mozzarellas and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. 
  6. Bake until cheese is melted and crust is golden brown, 10-12 minutes.  

Hosting a girl's night in, or perhaps a casual New Year's Eve? What better way to savor a night of gossip than with homemade junk food? 

Every pizza deserves a good crust.  I have tried at least five different recipes, and always return to this one courtesy of Food Network Magazine's May 2009 issue. I make a few batches at a time, slice the dough balls in half as directed and keep in the freezer for last minute indulgences.

Pizza Dough:
Recipe Created by: Food Network Magazine
3 3/4 cup AP flour
1 TB sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/3 cup warm water
1 package yeast
3 TB olive oil
  1. Combine flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a mixer fit with a dough hook.  Make a well and pour in yeast.  Add the water and let yeast bloom for 2-3 minutes.  
  2. Begin kneading dough with the dough hook adding olive oil as you mix.  
  3. Once the dough has come together, brush with olive oil and place in a large bowl.  Cover with plastic and let rise until doubled in size; approximately an hour and half.  (I use rapid rise yeast which reduces this time to about an hour)  
  4. Punch down dough and cut in half.  Form into two dough balls; each recipe utilizes one dough ball.   If you are going to use the dough right away, prepare as follows.  Otherwise, cover dough balls in plastic and place in the refrigerator or freezer. 
  5. Turn out dough on a well floured surface.  Roll into a circle and place on pan with 1-inch hanging over the side.  Roll the excess into a crust and brush entire dough with olive oil.  Prick all over with a fork and place in the oven until it just begins to brown; 5-7 minutes.  
  6. Remove from the oven, and top with favorite toppings.  Return to the oven for 10-12 minutes until well-browned and cheeses are melted.  Enjoy! 
So, I ask again.... what's your guilty pleasure??

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Cure your holiday blues!

After attending a fabulous Christmas party, the husband and I left the cold temperatures of the North and returned to a surprisingly chilly South.  Adding to our week of gray weather were deadlines, finals and the inevitable commitments of the holiday season; it was not long before we resembled the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree.  Determined to elevate my mood, I flipped through Dorie Greenspan's Around my French Table and quickly added her Beef Daube to our weekly menu.  After minimal prep and the lovely stress release of using a cleaver, I slid a bubbling pot of goodness into the oven certain that I had found the cure to holiday funk.  Perhaps it was the memories of my grandmother's beef stew that elevated my mood, or, perhaps it was the two and half hours of braising time that I spent sipping red wine, flipping through holiday photo books and listening to the wonderful yet horrid sounds of the season offered by AT&T U Verse. 

Isn't it fantastic when you have a good meal and a life lesson all at once? After cooking this beef in the recommended Central Region Syrah, I may have discovered why my beef stews and stracottos have  been mediocre; I always cooked them in a Cabernet.  The light taste of Syrah combined with the onions and shallots softened in bacon grease were the makings of a beautiful broth with a deep and smoky flavor.  After devouring my bowl and sopping up the broth with a fresh piece of bread I sat back full of both good food and a Christmas spirit.  
All in all, this dish requires the effort of a crock pot meal yet gives the bragging rights of French cuisine.  Feeling the holiday stress?  I invite you to slide your own beef daube into the oven. What better way to let your heart be light.

*For the Beef Daube and other fantastic recipes, purchase a copy of Around my French Table available via My Loves on Amazon.  Visit French Fridays with Dorie and read what other members cooked up this week.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

it's cold, it's raining, it's French!

Once in a while, everyone needs a good rainstorm. Rain either inspires me to bake delicious treats, or barely move from the couch. This past week, I choose the latter.  With my youngest at my side I indulged in an afternoon of hot tea and Charlie Brown specials as rain pounded our windows.  Wanting to continue our quiet afternoon but not wanting to order a pizza, I gladly attempted another recipe from Around My French Table appropriately titled Roast Chicken for Les Paresseux translation: Roast Chicken for Lazy People.

Roast chicken is one of my favorite meals if only for the mouth watering aroma. Resting on two slices of bread, this low maintenance chicken shared tight quarters with onions, carrots and potatoes and roasted to perfection. After a mere ninety minutes in the oven, the family, happy to be in front of our fireplace,  came together and enjoyed this simple and delicious meal.  How wonderful it felt to take a break from the maddening schedules of our daily grind; even more wonderful is a meal that actually celebrates this break.  For me, this simple meal alleviated any guilt from spending an afternoon on the couch and reminded me to enjoy the people for whom I spend hours in the kitchen.

Any leftovers? We nearly devoured the entire bird in one sitting; however the leftover meat added to a wonderful lunch the following day when tossed with fresh arugula and an equally low maintenance dressing.   Consider this the salad dressing for les paresseux.

Dijon Salad Dressing:
Food Network Magazine November 2010
2 tsp dijon mustard
2 tsp white wine vinegar
3 TB olive oil
salt and pepper
  1. In a small bowl combine the mustard and vinegar.  Whisk in the olive oil and season to taste. 
*For the roast chicken for les paresseux and other fantastic recipes, I encourage you to purchase Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table available via My Loves on Amazon. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

No soup for you... please?

So, in the past month I have cooked up quite a storm... just never posted!  Yes, in the midst of fender benders, weddings, northern vacations and life in general my blog simmered on the back burner.  However, in time for the busiest cooking months of the year, I am back.

This past weekend, I began Thanksgiving preparations by roasting poultry and making stock.  A productive weekend, however the constant smell of roasting birds and boiling vegetables made the entire household hungry for something solid and non American.  Our ex-patriot spirit found refuge in a Green Lentil Curry from Food & Wine January 2010 issue.  Voted one of the best new vegetarian dishes of 2009, this recipe transforms your soup-bound pantry staples into curried delight.

Green-Lentil Curry
Recipe Created by: Madhur Jafrey
Active: 30 minutes  Total: 1 Hour
1 tsp finely grated ginger
1 garlic clove
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
3 TB canola oil
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
1 small shallot (I used green onions)
1 TB tomato paste mixed with 1 TB water
1 1/4 cup dried green lentils
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
4 ounces green beans cut into 3/4 inch lengths
4 ounces kale, stemmed and leaved finely chopped
1 medium carrot, thickly sliced
1 cup finely chopped cilantro (I used flat leaf parsley)
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

  1. In a small bowl, combine the ginger, garlic, coriander and ground cumin.  Stir in 1/4 cup water to make a paste.  In a small skillet, heat the oil until shimmering.  Add the cumin seeds and cook over moderately high heat for 5 seconds.  Just until sizzling.  Add the shallot and cook stirring, until lightly browned about 1 minute.  Add the spice paste and let cook until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 2 minutes.  Stir in the tomato paste and cook until thick, about 1 minute longer.
  2. In a saucepan, combine the lentils with the turmeric and 5 cups of water; bring to a boil.  Cover partially and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes, until the lentils are barely tender.  Add the green beans, kale, carrot, three-fourths of the cilantro and the cayenne and season with salt.  Cook until the lentils and vegetables are tender, 15 minutes.  Scrape in the spice paste and the remaining cilantro. Simmer for five minutes and serve. 
Served in a bowl of stemmed basmati rice with a warm piece of naan, this is the perfect cure for your soup rut!  

Monday, October 18, 2010

Cold Cure

"But mom, it's hot outside!"

It was nearly 100 degrees on a typical mid August evening. I had announced the night's dinner of chicken noodle soup and understandably, my moody pre-teen was not pleased.  Fast forward a few months; it is an 80 degree evening in October and autumn's first cold has settled in on the said pre-teen.  I waited for the formal request, but already planned to cook up a steaming bowl of mom's chicken noodle soup. Regardless of the weather this soup seems to cure allergies, fevers or indescribable funks.  

My mother makes a fantastic chicken soup, and reliably had a pot waiting for me whenever I returned home from college for winter break.  When I began cooking, it was one of the first soups that I was determined to master.  About five years and many recipes later, I am happy to offer my own recipe.  

Chicken Noodle Soup
Recipe created by: Lori Pierce
1 TB Grapeseed oil
1 large yellow onion finely diced
3 stalks celery,  chopped
3 medium carrots peeled, and chopped
2 cups cooked chicken breast cut into bite sized pieces*
2 quarts chicken stock
1 and 1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried rosemary
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried basil
2 bay leaves
1 cup dried pasta noodles
1 tsp balsamic vinegar

  1. In a large pot over medium heat, heat the oil.  Add the onion and stir.  Add the celery and saute until both the onion and celery have softened, about 3-4 minutes.  Add the carrots, stir to combine and cook 3-5 minutes.  Add the chicken, stock, salt, pepper, thyme, rosemary, oregano, basil and bay leaves.  Bring to a boil skimming off any foam as needed.  
  2. Add the pasta noodles and cook until al dente; I use whatever leftover pasta noodles I have in the pantry, this time it was cavatappi which took about 10 minutes.  Remove from the heat, and stir in the balsamic vinegar.  Serve and enjoy!
The curing power of this soup requires one final step; for the oldest a large hunk of country bread and cup of lemon zinger tea is required.  For the youngest, it is a bowl of the strained broth and well placed noodles, for me a nice dollop of siracha clears out the sinuses, and for the husband it is a bowl covered in saran wrap left in the fridge as a post homework  post homework. Regardless of the side or condiment, we feel fantastic after devouring a generous bowl.  

*If I am without leftover roasted chicken I liberally salt and pepper one whole chicken breast and bake it in a 400 degree oven until fully cooked.  

Friday, October 15, 2010

French Food at the Southern Table

Romantic and elusive; that's how I describe French cuisine.  With a minimal understanding of the flavor profile and techniques, I assumed that the creation of anything beyond French Toast  required a stint at Le Cordon Bleu, a quaint apartment that is food market adjacent and a Vespa with a basket full of fresh flowers.  I was quite discouraged until I came across French Fridays with Dorie Greenspan.  Each week Dorie guides foodies through her newest book Around my French Table  as she answers questions and reads various blog posts.  So, last week when a dear friend suggested taking our children to the museum,  I suggested that we continue our fall celebration by heading back to my house for a post-museum dinner with an attempted French flair.  Old habits die hard. 

Our first course was the tastey and unexpected Dijon Tart.  Had this recipe not been accompanied by a beautiful picture, I most likely would have lost my nerve.  Mustard as a main ingredient? To say I proceeded cautiously would be an understatement.  After enjoying a plate of fresh bread and cheeses, I presented my guests with this creation.  The taste?  Nothing short of amazing.  The delicate crust encased the fresh vegetables and fluffy egg and cream filling with elegance and ease.  As someone who rarely adds mustard to anything but a hot dog, this was the perfect dish to expand the palate.  

After an appetizer such as this a roasted chicken with vegetables seemed the perfect entree.  Like many new cooks, there was a time when I avoided whole chickens fearful of the whole 'cleaning' process.  Now I have roasted dozens of chickens and suggest one of two solutions: have your butcher complete the task for you, or purchase a free range organic chicken which usually has the inner parts safely packaged in a bag that you can pull out and dispose.  I'm so happy to have cleared this hurdle as a roasted chicken is a one pan dinner that is easy delicious and oh so beautiful.  For years I followed a recipe for all of my chickens, however I now fly solo with the following.

Roasted Chicken 
Recipe created by: Lori Pierce

  • 1 5-pound Free Range Chicken
  • 1 lemon cut into fourths
  • 2 yellow onions, 1 cut into fourths 1 thinly sliced
  • 1 head garlic cut in half and left in the skins
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf broken into pieces
  • 4 carrots peeled and sliced into thirds
  • 4-5 yukon gold potatoes cut into fourths
  • 3 TB unsalted butter, softened
  • dry white wine
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  2. Take a deep breath, clean the chicken and place into a roasting pan.  Liberally salt and pepper the chicken inside and out.   
  3. Stuff chicken with the lemon and onion wedges, garlic, rosemary and bay leaf.  
  4. Rub the chicken with the butter being careful not to tear the skin.  Scatter the carrots onions and potatoes around the bird and sprinkle with salt and pepper. 
  5. Pour white wine into the roasting pan; I use to fill the bottom of the pan by about a quarter of an inch.  This is depending on your taste. 
  6. Roast for about 45 minutes before you start checking the chicken.  It is fully cooked when you pierce the leg and the juices run clear, or when it registers 180 on a meat thermometer. (I like to take the chicken out at 165 degrees as it will continue to cook during the resting period.) 
  7. Remove the chicken from the roasting pan and set on a cutting board, cover with foil and allow to rest. 
  8. Toss the vegetables in the roasting dish and return to the oven for 10-15 minutes more roasting time.
  9. Once the vegetables come out of the oven, uncover and carve the chicken.  Serve and enjoy! 
This meal was a backdrop for a fantastic evening.  The children continued their playdate by painting what I'm sure are French Impressionists portraits, the adults enjoyed some wine and conversation before we all gathered around the table. It seems that Dorie's French Table transitions well to my Southern table.  

*For the Dijon Tart and other fantastic recipes, I encourage you to purchase Dorie Greenspan's  Around My French Table available via My Loves on Amazon.  

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Date Night In

Sometimes the best way to be a good parent is to take a break.  The husband and I make every effort to have an evening to ourselves on a biweekly basis. This is our date night; a time to focus on each other and momentarily allow playdates and science projects to fall by the wayside.  Our date nights are usually spent at the least family friendly restaurant available.  This week, however, we were  presented with the most rare occurrence; an empty house.  Wanting to bask in the precious peace and quiet, we decided to bring date night in.  Not wanting to destroy the serenity with a huge project and disastrous clean up, I turned to my dear Ina Garten and discovered her recipe for Mussels in White Wine.   Not only is this recipe easy, but it is on the table in 45 minutes.  Grab a bottle of wine, pull out some cloth napkins and the dining room is now a French Bistro.

Mussels in White Wine:
recipe created by Ina Garten
3 pounds cultivated mussels (my fish monger graciously picked through several sacks to give me three pounds of live mussels.  Although this will add some time to you're shopping trip, you will avoid paying for mussels meant for the trash.)
1/3 cup AP flour
2 TB unsalted butter
2 TB good olive oil
1 cup shallots (about 5-7 shallots)
1 1/2 TB minced garlic (5-6 cloves)
1/2 cup San Marzanno Tomatoes
1/2 tsp. good saffron threads
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes*
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 TB fresh thyme leaves
1 cup good white wine
2 tsp kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
  1. To clean the mussels, place them in a bowl with 2 quarts of water and the flour and soak for 30 minutes, or until the mussels disgorge any sand.  Drain the mussels, then remove the 'beard' with your fingers. If they're dirty, scrub the mussels with a brush under running water.  Discard any mussels whose shells are not tightly shut. 
  2. In a large non aluminum stock pot, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat.  Add the shallots and cook for 5 minutes; then add the garlic and cook for 3 more minutes, or until the shallots are translucent.  Add the tomatoes, saffron, parsley, thyme, wine, salt and pepper.  *(It was at this stage that I added the red pepper flakes; a bit less French, a bit more French Cajun). Bring to a boil.
  3. Add the mussels, stir well, then cover the pot and cook over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until all of the mussels are opened (discard any that do not open). With the lid on, shake the pot once or twice to be sure the mussels don't burn on the bottom.  Pour the mussels and the sauce into a large bowl and serve hot.  
We sopped up the broth with a fresh baguette however, it truly screamed for a side of linguini.  Offering shellfish rather than the usual comfort food instantly made this dinner an occasion.  What more do you need on date night?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Power Lunch

I love lunch food; creamy soups, hot sandwiches or a gorgeous salad.  I do, however, rarely find time to indulge in such dishes in the middle of the day.  My lunch often consists of a few slices of cheese and some fruit eaten behind the wheel of my car.  This all changed once I combined a farmers market find, a google search and some siracha.

Purple Hull Peas and Sweet Potato Greens
My southern side of the family is extremely superstitious; if you dream of the same person three separate times you contact him/her immediately.  While at the Farmers Market I saw Purple Hull Peas, a vegetable I was completely unfamiliar with, at three separate stands. I felt obligated to purchase a bag. At the next stand, I bought my arugula and was offered a bag of sweet potato greens at a 20% discount.  Bargains and superstition? Now that's the South!

Lori's Power Lunch:
This is a meal rich in vitamins and fiber with a generous amount of protein.  
Purple Hull Peas:
1 TB grape seed oil
1 medium onion
1-2 cloves garlic finely minced
1 pound of purple hull peas
2 bay leaves
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Stemmed rice (I prefer brown rice stemmed in chicken broth*)

  1. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Add onion and saute until softened stirring occasionally, about  3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, 1 minute.  Add the hull peas and stir to combine.  Add enough water to cover peas by 1-2 inches.  Add bay leaves and a sprinkling of sea salt and freshly ground pepper.   
  2. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then lower a simmer.  Simmer over low heat uncovered until beans are tender, about 45 minutes. 
  3. Drain the cooking liquid and remove the bay leaves. Adjust seasonings as needed. 
  4. Serve over rice with a generous dollop of siracha.  Enjoy an afternoon energy boost that encourages you to kick into headstand, meet your deadlines, or see your child's point of view. 

Sweet Potato Greens:
I love salad, but can get a bit bored with the usual mixed greens in a vinaigrette.  These warm greens satisfy the salad craving with an autumn twist. 
1 TB grape seed oil
1 half red onion
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 bunch sweet potato greens, stems removed
soy sauce
  1. Heat oil over medium heat in a large saute pan.  Add the onion and cayenne pepper and saute until softened, about 3-4 minutes.  Add the sweet potato greens.  Using tongs, toss the greens in the sauce pan until evenly coated with onions and seasoning.  
  2. Add soy sauce* to taste, for me this was about 1-2 splashes.  Serve warm.  
Easy and economical, lunch is no longer an inconvenience! 

*Note: this dish is easily made vegetarian by steaming rice in water or vegetable broth in place of chicken broth.  Also, those using these recipes for a gluten free diet will need an appropriate substitute for the soy sauce.  Visit Whole for select brands. 

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Sunday Comforts

Friday dinners are a time to celebrate, but Sunday dinners are a time to savor.  Sunday dinners are more reflective and more relaxing than the weekend kick off enjoyed a mere 48 hours prior.  I enjoy them not only for their change in pace, but their dictated cuisine.  While Friday evenings are a time for culinary experiments and new dishes, Sunday dinners demand the best in comfort food.  With this thought in mind, I'm sharing a recipe for chicken pot pie.  Remember the chicken pot pie from our childhood?  A gummy crust filled with gray pieces of chicken, mushy vegetables, and a glue-like gravy?  Not today.  This dish brings together your fresh vegetables, cornbread, and roasted chicken all in a savory gravy you will scrape up with your fork.  

Chicken Pot Pie with Cornbread Crust
Recipe created by: Christina Ferrare (Oprah's favorite cook.... other than John Travolta )
Christina's recipe calls for rotisserie chicken, however I like to roast a few chicken breasts that I season, pound thin and slice into generous chunks.  I also prefer to parboil both the potatoes and carrots as fully cooking them runs the risk of mushiness.  Finally, since potatoes are readily available at the Farmers Market, I like to use fresh red or new potatoes with the skin on; the rusticity has never been better suited! 
1 TB Olive Oil
1 TB unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1/4 cup flour
2 cups chicken stock, heated
2 cups cooked chicken
1/2 cup frozen sweet peas
1 potato, diced and boiled
1 1/2 cup chopped cooked carrots
1/2 tsp salt
Cracked pepepr
Dashes of Tabasco Sauce
3/4 cup white or yellow cornmeal (I prefer stoneground)
3/4 cup AP flour
1 TB baking powder
1 1/2 TB sugar
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup milk
1 egg
2 TB canola oil

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Spray a 2 quart casserole with cooking spray.  In a large sauce pan, heat the olive oil and unsalted butter together. Add onion and saute until tender, about 4 or 5 minutes.  Add in flour until blended.  Slowly stir in 2 cups of heated chicken stock, whisking well. (Note: The chicken stock is the basis for your gravy; I recommend homemade stock or a high quality organic product.)   Cook mixture over medium heat until thickened and bubbly, about 4 minutes.  Stir in chicken, peas, potato, carrots, salt, pepper, and Tabasco.  Pour into the prepared 2 quart casserole.  
  2. In a bowl, stir cornmeal, flour, baking powder, sugar and salt.  In a separate bowl, stir milk, egg and canola oil until well combined.  Stir wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.  Spoon the batter evenly on the filling.  Bake until the top is golden brown 22 to 25 minutes. 
This is the stick to your ribs meal you want on a Sunday afternoon.  Enjoy it with a salad, some good wine and good people and you will go into the new week ready to take on the world. 

Monday, September 27, 2010

Cheese Making for Family Dinner

Cheese ranks high on a long list of culinary addictions.   Cambazola on flatbread, borsin on sliced apple, goat cheese and roasted beets... life is good.  Many years ago, when my husband and I were first married and our budget was tight as a drum, we celebrated Friday evenings with a fresh baguette, a $7 bottle of wine and an $8 wedge of cheese. If only for nostalgia sake, I had to take the homemade cheese and dairy workshop offered at Sur la Table.  After an afternoon of stirring warmed milk and separating curds and whey, I was shocked not only by how easy you can make homemade cheese but how superior the product is to what is available at the store.  So, with my tuffet set aside, I vowed to add cheese making to the weekly list of projects.  This week, I gave queso blanco a try as the family celebrated the completion of another week and the possibilities of the weekend at our Friday night family dinner.

Queso Blanco
Makes 8 to 10 ounces
One instruction stressed over and over during the cheese workshop was not to use ultra pasteurized milk.  Horizon Organic Milk is ultra-pasteurized, so my best grocery store option was Promised Land Milk. However, the ultimate choice for homemade cheese is local milk available at the farmer's market. Local milk will make the freshest cheese, support local agriculture and ultimately give you delicious queso blanco for under $5.  The inner hippie and the inner economist are in harmony. 

8 cups whole milk
3 to 4 TB fresh lemon juice.
  1. In a large heavy saucepan bring the milk to a boil over high heat, stirring almost constantly.  When the milk comes to a frothing boil reduce the heat to low and when the frothing subsides, stir in 3 TB lemon juice.  Continue stirring gently in one direction, until the milk curdles and the cheese separates from the whey. If after a minute the cheese has not fully formed and the whey is not a clear yellow-green color, add small amounts of the lemon juice and continue to stir until the cheese forms. 
  2. Remove the pan from the heat and, using a slotted spoon, transfer the curds to the cheesecloth-lined sieve.  Now pour the whey and the remaining smaller bits of cheese and bundle them together.  Twist gently to squeeze out as much whey as possible.  
  3. Wrap the cheese in the same cheesecloth to make a neatly shaped bundle.  At this point, you can leave the cheese on a board weighed down with a bowl of water or tie it to the faucet to drain into the sink.  I took the latter option and left it for about 20 minutes.  At this point I unwrapped the cheese cloth and patted it dry with paper towel.
When you taste the cheese at the point, it will not have a strong flavor.  You can add salt and pepper, however I mixed it with Pepper Jack cheese for enchiladas so we enjoyed it more for the gorgeous texture and fresh flavor.  It reminded me of a Mexican version of ricotta cheese in a good lasagna. 

Lolo's Margaritas:
I can't eat Mexican food without a good margarita.  This recipe was inspired by both Ina Garten's Real Margaritas and The Level Headed One's Low Calorie Margaritas.  Having spent many evenings with both, I offer my own version.  Note: all fruit juices are freshly squeezed.  

2 cups orange juice
1 cup lime juice
1 cup lemon juice
1 cup good quality silver tequila (I prefer Milagro to Patron Silver)
1 cup Orange Liqueur (I prefer Patron Citronage to Grand Marnier) 
1 cup ice cubes

Combine all ingredients in the blender.  Blend and enjoy... responsibly.  

You have your cheese and your cocktails; now its time to make a fantastic meal.  You can't have fresh cheese and a fresh cocktail paired with dinner from a can, so recruit some family help and try these outstanding recipes courtesy of Louis Lambert for Food & Wine magazine:  

Two Cheese Enchiladas
1/2 cup vegetable oil, plus more for the baking dish
3 1/2 cups salsa roja (recipe below)
12 6-inch corn tortillas
2 cups queso blanco
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
3/4 cup minced onion
2 cups finely shredded green cabbage
2 plum tomatoes
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly oil a 9 X 13 inch glass or ceramic baking dish.  In a medium skillet, warm the 1/2 cup oil (I skipped this step and dipped my tortillas into the salsa roja rather than hot oil. I found then to be plenty pliable) In another medium skillet, warm 1/2 cup of the Salsa Roja and transfer to a plate, stacking the tortillas on top of each other.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix the queso blanco with the MOnterrey Jack. Set a tortilla on a work surface and spoon 1/4 cup of the cheese and about 1 TB of minced onion in the center.  Loosely roll up the tortilla like a cigar and set in the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining tortillas, cheese and onion.  Pour the remaining 3 cups of Salsa Roja over the rolled enchiladas and sprinkle the remaining 1 cup of cheese on top. 
  3. Bake the enchiladas for 25 minutes or until heated through and the sauce is bubbling.  Scatter the cabbage and tomatoes over the enchiladas and serve hot. 

Salsa Roja
8 large ancho chilies, stemmed and seeded
1 small dried red chile stemmed and most of the seeds discarded
3 plum tomatoes, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 TB light brown sugar
1 TB vegetable oil
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 TB cider vinegar
  1. In a medium saucepan, combine all of the ingredients except the cider vinegar and bring to a boil for 2 minutes.  Cover, remove from the heat and let stand for 10 minutes. Working in batches, puree the sauce in a blender.  Transfer to a bowl and stir in vinegar.

Try this for your next family dinner, or enjoy a date night at home.  You will not be disappointed.  Well, in the meal anyway.   

Friday, September 24, 2010

Pantry Raid

In my quest to stretch our monthly grocery budget, I have taken to a ritual pantry raid; a literal scouring of the pantry's contents in pursuit of undiscovered meal potential. This month's raid offered a plethora of dried beans.  What better way to kick off the beginning of fall than with some homemade soups?  One flip through my recipe collection, a few bags of fresh produce and I was ready to prepare three outstanding and inexpensive dishes.  The first two recipes are courtesy of the October issue of Food Network Magazine.  The last is a tried and true Ina Garten recipe that you may remember from party #49.  

Cranberry Bean Pasta Fagioli
One of my many culinary embarrassments includes my college-year love affair with the Olive Garden's Soup, Salad, and Breadstick.  To this day, I cannot serve Pasta Fagioli without a huge salad and buttery slices of garlic bread.  I do however skip the post-meal keg stand... even my nostalgia has its limits. 

Active: 45 minutes            Total: 2 hours 25 minutes

5 TB extra virgin olive oil plus more for drizzling
5 cloves garlic, smashed
1 small onion
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes or more to taste
1 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 2-ounce piece of pancetta*
5 canned whole San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand* 
Kosher salt
3 pounds fresh cranberry beans in pods, shelled (or 1 cup dried cranberry beans soaked overnight. I used this option.)
2 bay leaves
1 piece parmesan cheese rind, plus 1/2 cup grated parmesan, and more for topping.
2 cups small pasta, such as shells or ditalini*
1 bunch kale, stems and ribs discarded, leaves chopped
1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley
Freshly ground pepper

  1. Heat 3 TB olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add the garlic, onion, red pepper flakes, rosemary and pancetta, if using, and cook 2 minutes.  Stir in the tomatoes and cook 2 more minutes; season with salt. Add the beans, 3 quarts water, the bay leaves and parmesan rind. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer until the beans are tender, 1 hour 30 minutes to 2 hours.  (At this stage, I froze half of the soup and therefore used half of the pasta and kale.  I then added the Parmesan and salt and pepper to taste.)
  2. Uncover the pot and bring the mixture to a boil over high heat.  Add the pasta and cook until aldente, about 8 minutes.  Add the kale and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender 5 to 6 more minutes. (This soup should be thick and creamy thin with water if necessary) 
  3. Remove the bay leaves, parmesan rind and pancetta.  Add the grated parmesan, parsley, the remaining 2 TB olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Top with more olive oil and parmesan. 
Note: I had a package of sliced pancetta on hand; I diced up these slices and left them in the soup.  I also used home canned tomatoes in place of the San Marzano, however my favorite substitute was the use of whole wheat pasta.  Cranberry beans have a nutty, almost chestnut-like flavor.  The whole wheat pasta complimented this flavor beautifully and added another nutritious edge to this bowl of goodness. 

Slow Cooker Squash Stew
This was a fantastic soup, however it did not fare well during the reheat process; I recommend making this without any plans for leftovers.  
Active: 35 minutes         Total: 35 (plus 8 hours in the slow cooker)
3 TB Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
2 TB Tomato Paste
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1.5 cups dried chickpeas, rinsed
1 pound butternut squash peeled and cut into large pieces
1 bunch swiss chard, leaves and stems separated and roughly chopped
1 piece of parmesan rind, plus grated parmesan for topping (optional)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft and golden brown, 4-5 minutes.  Stir in the tomato paste and red pepper flakes and cook 1 minute.  Stir in 1/2 cup water, scraping up any browned bits. Transfer the contents of the skillet to a 6 quart slow cooker.
  2. Add the chickpeas, squash, chard stems (not the leaves) the parmesan rind, if using, 2 teaspoons salt and 7 cups of water to the slow cooker.  Stir, then cover and cook on low for 8 hours.  
  3. Just before serving, lift the lid and stir in the chard leaves; cover and continue cooking 10 more minutes.  Season with salt and pepper, and stir to slightly break up the squash.  Discard the parmesan rind. Ladle into bowls and top with grated parmesan cheese.     

Rosemary White Bean Soup
Serves 6
Sometimes, a basic bowl of creamy soup is essential to good living.  This is just the soup for such occasion. 
1 pound white cannellini beans (I used great northern beans) soaked overnight
4 cups sliced yellow onions (3 onions)
1/4 cup good olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 large branch fresh rosemary
2 quarts chicken stock
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper

  1.  In a large stockpot over low to medium heat, saute the onions with the olive oil until the onions are translucent, 10-15 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook 3 more minutes.  Add the drained white beans, rosemary, chicken stock, and bay leaf.  Cover and bring to a boil, and simmer 30-40 minutes. 
  2. Remove rosemary branch and bay leaves and pass soup through the food mill (I used an immersion blender and coarsely pureed.) 
  3. Salt and pepper to taste and serve.
I served this soup with a beet and goat cheese salad.  It was perfect for dinner and even better served from our family thermoses the following afternoon.

Don't have beans in the pantry?  MSN money did report a 20% price increase... the good news is that they are still under a dollar a pound.  Need a budget friendly menu, but your pantry is bean free?  Post questions in the comment box; I'm sure there is something perfect for your family table. 

Friday, September 17, 2010

Good Morning Sunshine...

Mornings are not popular in the Pierce household.  The art of getting four people up and out the door can be a chore; making these four non-morning people happy can be insurmountable.  In my attempt to give everyone a bit of morning love without actually having to speak to them, I decided to add homemade breakfasts to our routine.  I needed something portable that could be prepped in advance and relatively healthy.   I first offered muffins; after throwing away a third of the batch each week my morale was low.  We moved on to smoothies; cups left in the car on a 93 degree day do not offer a great aroma in the afternoon.  Like a gift from above I received an email from Martha with a presentation on quick breads.  We have a winner!  These are easy to bake and even easier to transport.  They are also a great way to sneak seasonal fruits and veggies into the morning meals.  This week we enjoyed Strawberry Bread.  Slather a slice of this with cream cheese, pour yourself a go-cup of coffee and morning seems a little less hellish.  

Strawberry Bread
Prep: 10 minutes        Total: 1 Hour 10 minutes
Serves: 8

5 Tablespoons unsalted butter softened
1 pint strawberries, rinsed, hulled, quartered and mashed with a fork
1 3/4 cups AP flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter an 8-by-4 inch loaf pan.  In a small saucepan, bring strawberries to a boil over medium heat.  Cook stirring 1 minute.  Set aside (Note: I failed to cook while stirring on my first attempt of this bread and had a runny mess on my hand.  This step is critical)
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, baking powder and salt; set aside.  With an electric mixer, cream the butter, sugar, and eggs in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy.  Add flour mixture alternately with 1/3 cup water, beginning and ending with flour.  Fold in reserved strawberries.
  3. Scrape batter into prepared pan, smoothing top.  Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 1 hour (tent with foil after 45 minutes if top is getting too dark). Cool in pan 10 minutes.  Run a knife around the edges; invert onto a rack.  Reinvert; cool completely. 
I always bake a quick bread on Sunday evening.  Not only does it end the weekend with the beautiful smell of freshly baked goods, but I go to bed knowing that breakfast is already served!